Deadly Israeli Raid Targets New Palestinian Militia

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JERUSALEM — Israeli forces carried out a major raid against a Palestinian militia in the occupied West Bank city of Nablus on Tuesday, killing a leader of the group and four other men, according to members of the militia and Palestinian officials.

The predawn raid targeted the Nablus-based militia known as the Lions’ Den, which emerged this year and does not answer to any of the established Palestinian factions. Many Palestinians have championed the group’s fighters as popular heroes, in part because Israel’s occupation of the territory has dragged on for more than a half-century and become increasingly entrenched.

Israel has blamed the Lions’ Den for a rise in shootings that it says are aimed at its troops and Jewish settlements in the West Bank, including one that killed a soldier this month. It said that it had killed the group’s leader, Wadie al-Houh, in an exchange of gunfire, adding that he was the main target of the raid and was responsible for producing bombs and obtaining weapons for the group.

This year has already been the deadliest in the West Bank since 2015 for Palestinians in the conflict with Israel. And the raid, along with the threat of revenge attacks, raised tensions further in an already volatile atmosphere ahead of Israel’s general election, which is set to take place next week.

The Israeli army has kept Nablus under a tight siege for about two weeks, severely restricting movement in and out of the city in an effort to contain attacks. Palestinians have decried the closure as a collective punishment.

On Tuesday, the Israeli military said that its troops and special forces had raided a “hide-out apartment” in the Old City of Nablus that the Lions’ Den used as a headquarters and explosives manufacturing site. The troops blew up the explosives lab, the military added.

It said that its troops hit multiple armed men and fired back at gunmen who were shooting at them, while dozens of Palestinians burned tires and hurled rocks at the forces.

The Lions’ Den confirmed that Mr. al-Houh was killed and that he was a leader of the group.

The militia has won the admiration of many young Palestinians by posting videos on social media of its attacks on Israelis in real time. These young Palestinians are as frustrated with the Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited authority over parts of the West Bank, as they are with Israel.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, denounced the Israeli raid as a war crime, while Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that dominates the Gaza Strip, warned that Israel’s “crimes would plunge Palestine into escalation.”

The dead were carried in a funeral procession in Nablus, wrapped in flags with the Lions’ Den insignia. Along with the five who were killed in the Nablus raid, the Palestinian Health Ministry said at least 20 Palestinians were injured.

Another Lions’ Den operative was killed in Nablus on Sunday when a motorcycle exploded as he passed by. The group blamed Israel for what it described as an assassination and swore to avenge it.

Israel did not claim responsibility. But if it was behind the killing, Israeli experts said, it would be the first time that Israel has carried out a targeted killing in the West Bank in more than 20 years.

In addition to blaming the Lions’ Den for a rise in shootings at troops and in West Bank settlements, the Israeli authorities say that in the past few weeks, the group also sent an operative to carry out an attack in Tel Aviv, which was thwarted by the police, and that it planted an explosive device in a gas station near a West Bank settlement.

Separately on Tuesday, Palestinian officials said that a sixth Palestinian was killed overnight in the West Bank town of Nabi Saleh near the city of Ramallah. The Israeli military said its soldiers spotted a man hurling an explosive device at them near Nabi Saleh and responded with live fire.

No casualties were reported on the Israeli side in either episode.

Much of the violence between Israelis and Palestinians this year has focused on the northern West Bank cities of Nablus and Jenin. Unrest has spread to Palestinian areas of East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed after the Arab-Israeli War of 1967 in a move that most countries have not recognized.

And there has been a noted rise in violence against Palestinians and their property by extremist Jewish settlers, who frequently set out to confront Palestinians and their supporters during the fall olive harvest.

Right-wing opponents of Israel’s centrist prime minister, Yair Lapid, have criticized his government during the election campaign for not acting more aggressively against Palestinian militants. But Mr. Lapid vowed on Tuesday to keep pursuing Palestinians who attack Israelis.

“We will reach every place,” he said. “Israel will never be deterred against operating for its own security.”

Gabby Sobelman and Hiba Yazbek contributed reporting.

Sumber: www.nytimes.com

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